What are the Best Primers for Bare Wood Furniture?

best primer for wood

When you are painting a bare wood surface, it is almost a requirement to apply primer to the surface first.

Some DIYers, however, don’t even know that, yet it is super important because primer allows the paint to adhere to the wooden surface more effectively than if it wasn’t by itself.

If you are familiar with cooking, it is sort of like adding the egg wash to have the breading stick to your meat in a deep fryer.

A primer, in general, makes your finished painted product look better. It gets your paint to have better coverage and a smoother finish. Plus, some primers will seal the wood from moisture and erosion.

So primers can also be great sealers for people who may not specifically care about looks.

Best Primers for Bare Wood

So what primer is the best for your woodworking project? Well, this is hard to say, as every project is different, and every wood primer is even more diverse.

However, I decided to test a few different types of primers to see what the best wood primer is in general. After trying them out, here are my top favorite primers for your timber that should work for most projects.

1. KILZ General Purpose Exterior Latex Primer

KILZ General Purpose Latex Primer, Exterior, 1 Gallon
  • This fast-drying latex primer and sealer is specifically formulated...
  • KILZ General Purpose Primer seals porous surfaces and offers excellent...
  • Use on almost all exterior surfaces including stucco, wood, masonry...

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The KILZ General Purpose Exterior Latex Primer is the best primer, hands down, that I have tested.

This will seal and protect all your bare wood from the elements and have it primed for painting in about one hour. And although the name doesn’t say it, it is a two-in-one, a primer, and a sealer.

A common occurrence that I say is that primers tend to be relatively smelly. But this one lacked that strong chemical smell that is associated with primers.

One of the best factors about this primer is that it is a general primer, meaning it can be used on nearly anything, maybe your old pine wood furniture or masonry – this gives it the flexibility that the competitors simply lack.

Due to all of these factors and the fact I have nothing bad to say about it, this KILZ primer is the best wood primer for most situations.

• Excellent adhesion
• Seals porous surfaces
• Primer & sealer in one
• Low odor and fast-drying
• Covers 300-400 square feet per gallon
• Not for stain-blocking
• Not good for flooring or glossy surfaces

2. Diamond Brite Paint Oil Base Primer 

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If for some reason, you don’t want to use my first choice, the Diamond Brite Paint Oil Base Primer is a great alternative, maybe a little better in some cases.

It is great on wood, but it can be used on many other materials, even metal. But keep in mind that as it is oil, it sadly will only work with the oil-based paint counterparts. This isn’t a big deal, but something to consider when you plan to buy this primer.

One thing I did notice is how great it was at covering the area. It felt like one coat was nearly enough for most situations, as a single gallon covered just over 300 square feet for us. 

But the elephant in the room is the waiting time – it is an oil-based product that takes a long time to dry. They say you should wait about 24 hours to recoat the surface, which is a decade compared to any of the other primers I used. So, I can’t recommend this product if you have a hard deadline you have to meet in a short amount of time.

• Durable
• Brush, roll, or spray
• Offer good coverage
• Easy to apply and clean up
• Can be applied to a variety of surfaces
• Can be used with oil paint

3. Krylon ColorMaster Paint + Primer

Krylon K05160202 ColorMaster Paint + Primer, Flat,...
  • For use on plastic, metal, wood and more
  • Perfect for indoor and outdoor projects
  • Dries in 10 minutes or less

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Many times your project requires you to paint and prime something in a very short amount of time, and the best primer on this list is the Krylon ColorMaster Paint + Primer for this kind of project.

This primer by Krylon comes in a spray can, meaning it can be applied very quickly to small areas. Also, I found it to be fully dry to the touch in 10 minutes so it surely worked for me very well in saving a significant amount of time.

Honestly, this solid product can be used on nearly everything I tested, from plastic to wood to metal, and it’s relatively cheap.

My only complaint with this spray primer and paint product is that it was a spray can. Although some people may see this as a positive, a spray can is not the way to go if you want to prime a large amount of surface area. But if it is a small object, this works great for what it is.

• Highly durable
• Spray with no mess
• Fast drying in less than 10 min
• Can be used on different materials
• Premium coverage with brilliant color
• Shine issues

4. Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer

Rust-Oleum 2004 286258 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer,...
  • Designed for interior & exterior use
  • Binds moderately chalky surfaces
  • Sticks to glossy surfaces

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This Rust-Oleum product is just a solid product all around as it can be used inside and outside wood surfaces, with a short one-hour drying time.

It even has a built-in function where it resists mildew and mold, increasing the lifespan of your woodworking project. Also, it works on glossy surfaces, which some primers sometimes struggle to do.

If you make any mistakes, it is a water-based primer, meaning you can easily clean up with soap and water.

My only complaint is the price tag, but you get what you paid for. Overall, it’s a good pick, and there isn’t much bad to say about the performance of this product.

• Water-based
• Does not need sanding
• Easy to use and clean up
• Covers 100 sq. ft. per quart
• Good for resisting mildew growth
• Dry fast with no blistering and flaking
• Expensive

5. Rust-Oleum American Accents Ultra Cover Primer

Rust-Oleum 327914-6PK American Accents Spray Paint, 12...
  • Ideal for interior/exterior use on virtually any surface including...
  • Provides long lasting protection with any-angle spray comfort tip that...
  • Dries to the touch in 20 min and covers up to 12 sq. ft. for quick...

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Although I just covered a Rust-Oleum product above, here is another one you can consider, in case the above one isnt available.

This Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover Primer is similar to the other primers on my list, but this one is in a spray can. And it was incredibly cheap. That’s all you have to know.

It also has a quicker drying time of about 20 minutes and can adhere to most surfaces. In fact, there wasn’t a surface I tested that didn’t work.

The biggest complaint, however, I have is that it has quite a low coverage, as it covers only 12 feet. This is unacceptable on any project that’s not tiny.

• Fast drying
• Highly durable
• Easy and affordable to use
• Good for small-sized projects
• Sprayer that can reach hard-to-paint places
• Smelly
• Meant for only 12 sq ft

6. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer

Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior...
  • Cover stain, QT, Oil based stain killer primer/sealer
  • Adds extra shine to your product
  • Manufactured in United States

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Sadly, we are at the point in the list where the primers have gotten pretty similar, so here we will try to mix it up.

The Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer’s whole idea is that it is a stain hider. It can hide nearly anything from smoke to water stains or even water damage on stained or varnished wood.

Although it can hide nearly anything, due to the nature of the liquid, it requires many coats, which, as you know, takes a lot more time. If this product could be a one-coat primer, this would be closer to the top.

• Covers stain
• Adds extra shine
• Dries in about 1 hour
• Oil-based for a variety of surface
• Thick
• Not good coverage

7. INSL-X Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer

INSL-X SXA11009A-04 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding...
  • Premium-quality, acrylic-urethane bonding primer-sealer with...
  • Bonding primer for drywall, plaster, ceiling, acoustical tile, wood...
  • Bonds to "hard-to-coat" surfaces and can be top coated with almost any...

*Last update on 2024-05-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

And the final primer I will recommend is probably the most niche.

The INSL-X Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer was designed to be a primer for the more complex surfaces to prime, such as wooden trims, PVC pipes, vinyl, or even glossy tile.

Some primers are just unable to adhere to these unique surfaces, but the INSL-X had no troubles.

However, it is relatively expensive and takes a few hours to recoat. If, for some reason, the other primers didn’t work for your project, this is a great last resort.

Although it’s a great primer designed for coating the most challenging surfaces, this should not be used for below-grade applications and over Kynar (or similar finishes).

• Low VOC
• Easy to clean up
• Offers great coverage
• Bonds to “hard-to-coat” surfaces
• Expensive

I can proudly say that these are all great products that will work for wood, no matter if it’s your unfinished cabinets, doors, windows, old trims, cedar siding, porch floor, decking planks, or any other outdoor wood furniture.

Pick one of them out and test it for yourself; hopefully, you will agree with my opinions.

Wood Primer Buying Guide: Factors You Need to Consider

If you can’t decide which primer to get, try answering a few questions which will help you decide better.

If you have trouble answering these questions, just ask for help or go with my best primer – the KILZ General Purpose Exterior Latex Primer.

But remember, there isn’t one primer that works on everything; some cases need a special primer for their particular case.

1- What Type of Wood is it?

Each type of wood has unique properties, and one of the unique properties is how they take primer.

So first, determine what type of species the wood is. This can be tricky if it is older; however, it shouldn’t be an issue on a new project.

As different varieties of wood take the primer differently, do some research on the best primer for your specific wood. The internet should be able to help you out, or you can go to a local hardware store and talk with an employee.

If the employee is well-versed, they are the best bet as they will try their best and recommend a primer that will work.

If you haven’t chosen your wood for the project, you may consider basing the wood choice on the project.

For example, if you want wood that is easy to paint and can hold for a long time, woods such as redwood, red cedar, bald cypress, white pine, and sugar pine will be the best for you.

If the wood doesn’t need to hold the paint, you may want to consider spruce, hemlock, Douglas fir, ponderosa, or lodgepole pine.

2- Bare Wood or Treated?

If it’s bare wood that’s never been stained or painted, you are free to choose any of the two between a latex primer and an oil primer. 

If it’s an untreated piece of wood that has a porous surface, it’s certainly a good idea to go with an oil-based paint primer, as it can provide better adhesion and is easier to sand.

Also, if you are priming on cheaper composite wood materials like plywood boards, particle boards, or MDF, it’s good to provide them extra protection by using an oil-based primer.

Water-based primer may work poorly on these surfaces as it seeps into the pores and gets absorbed into the material, causing them to swell.

3- Oil-Based vs. Water-Based?

An oil-based primer will generally improve the paint’s adhesion to the wood. They provide a tougher finish and can resist flaking better. Plus, oil-based wooden primers also provide better shine than water-based ones.

But as the sheen does not come into factor once you topcoat the surface with paint, you should generally choose the oil-based wood primer for its strength.

The only downside of choosing oil-based wood primers is they come at an extra cost and will take more time to dry. So, if you are short on time and/or money, you should probably choose a water-based primer.

Whatever primer you choose, always use the best quality paint – no matter what wood it is.

4- What Condition is Your Wood In?

This is the major factor that you should consider in choosing a wood primer.

If your wood is completely weathered and deteriorated, you may want to consider replacing it, as a primer is more of a preventive measure rather than a fix.

If not, think about the weather conditions this wood will experience – like your stained fence wood outside.

If it should be rained on consistently, make sure you get a stain-blocking primer that will seal the wood as well as stain. Also, make sure that if you need to sand the wood after priming (before you paint), you choose a good sandable primer for the timber that can be easily sanded.

5- Has the Wood Been Painted or Primed Before?

These are two huge factors that will affect your choice significantly.

If the wood was primed before, you might be able to get away with using it and just painting it. But if it was painted as well, it gets a little more complicated.

Lucky for us, there are actually primers that will work on top of an already-painted piece of wood.

As I mentioned in the type of wood, if it is possible, determine what type of paint or primer is on the wood and do additional research on what will work well with your specific combination.

best primer for bare wood

How Much Primer to Get for Priming Wood Surface?

Primers usually come with a short shelf life, and they get dried soon once opened. So, unless you are pretty sure about the quantity, you should avoid buying in bulk.

As a general rule, you should carefully estimate your requirements and buy a little bit more than you actually require.

You can get an idea by knowing the overall area you want to primer and the number of coats you plan to apply.

Again, how many coats of wood primer you will need to apply will largely depend on your project and the level of protection you desire to achieve.

For example, if you are applying the primer on exterior wood surfaces, you will definitely need to apply more coats than on interior surfaces.

How to Apply the Wood Primer and What Kind of Brush to Use?

Applying primer on a wooden surface is easy and fast with these steps…

Step 1.

Begin with cleaning the wood surface thoroughly, making sure that you completely remove all the dust and dirt for better adhesion

Step 2.

Using a high-quality brush (synthetic material preferred), prime the cleaned surface as evenly as possible.

If you want, you can make use of a roller or sprayer, especially for larger wood surfaces. But that would not be economical for smaller surfaces.

Step 3.

Allow the primer to dry, and inspect the surface for any marks or streaks left out due to priming.

Step 4.

If required, sand the surface lightly using sandpaper (#120 and #150) to remove the marks.

Step 5.

Finally, apply the topcoat primer evenly and allow it to dry for a few hours.

The Bottom Line

I noted this a few times throughout this article, but I will say one more time that there is not one primer that will work in every scenario. There are some good undercoats, though, that will work in most situations.

For example, I loved the KILZ General Purpose Exterior Latex Primer due to the quality it brings.

It’s not only a primer but also an excellent sealer, so it will be better for outside projects like when you want to seal and stain your pressure-treated wood deck. This primer precisely also dries relatively fast, making it a solid choice for most projects.

Check out all the primers I mentioned in my favorite list, as one of them may find a nice spot for itself in your garage. So, go out and choose your primer for your project – no matter its pine, oak, cypress, or any other raw unfinished wood.

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